We’ve been writing about the “safety assessment” tax of 50 cents that the city of Williamstown wants to impose for every admission ticket sold by Ark Encounter, the bizarre, land-locked “replica” of Noah’s Ark, the biblical tourist attraction run by Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo), the ayatollah of Appalachia. Ark Encounter is a subsidiary of Answers in Genesis (AIG) — Hambo’s creationist ministry. If you need some background, see Ken Ham’s Ticket Tax Crisis.
The tax doesn’t apply to non-profit, religious, or charitable events and organizations, and the city is well aware that Ark Encounter is a for-profit corporation. Nevertheless, ol’ Hambo doesn’t want to pay the tax. As Mark Looy, AIG’s co-founder said: “visitors to the Ark Encounter clearly recognize it as a religiously run attraction with a religious purpose.”
The Kentucky sales tax on Ark Encounter tickets is 6%, and Hambo’s organization went to court to take advantage of a state law that gives them a kick-back from the state equal to quarter of that. The sales tax on an adult ticket of $40 (less for seniors and kids) is $2.40. The state kick-back to Hambo’s organization is sixty cents per ticket, and the expected benefit is millions of dollars over the next ten years. The city’s safety tax of fifty cents per ticket is almost equal to the sales tax rebate Hambo had to fight so hard to get. Hambo could just add the city’s tax to the ticket price, but adult tickets already cost $40, plus the state’s sales tax, so they may feel unable to do that, and they might have to pay the city’s tax out of their corporate pocket. What’s at stake appears to be the expected benefit of the sales tax kick-back they fought so hard to get.
Several of our clandestine operatives have notified us of this article in the Grant County News, published in the county where Hambo’s ark is located: Will. [Williamstown] Council goes into executive session to discuss Ark Encounter, safety fee. Here’s one excerpt, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
The Williamstown City Council went into executive session during their meeting on July 10 to discuss possible litigation concerning the Ark Encounter. According to the Kentucky Open Meetings, public agencies can discuss certain subjects in a closed, or executive, meeting if notice is given in the regular meeting of the general nature of the business to be discussed, and the agency cites the specific exemption authorizing the closed session.
That’s all you can read online, unless you have a subscription to the paper. Our operatives, however, have provided us with the rest of the story. We won’t quote the hidden part because we’re not looking for problems. Essentially, the news is that City Attorney Jeff Shipp had informed AIG’s “Secretary General” that their request for a tax exemption had been rejected because Ark Encounter is a for-profit entity.
AIG still feels they should be exempt because of the holy nature of Ark Encounter’s message. AIG didn’t show up at the city’s meeting, and it’s expected that they’ll sue to establish their tax exemption. There’s no news about what happened in the executive session, from which the public was excluded. The newspaper has a comments section, and you’ll probably recognize the names of some of the commentators.
So that’s the situation. Hambo wants it both ways — Ark Encounter is a for-profit corporation (so they could qualify for the sales tax kick-back), yet he wants to be exempt from the safety tax because … well, because he’s such a holy guy that everything he does should be exempt from taxes he doesn’t want to pay. The city is expecting to be sued if Hambo doesn’t get what he wants, and they’re discussing the situation in a private executive session. AIG’s “Secretary General” is doing whatever someone with such a grandiose title would be expected to do. Our clandestine operatives are keeping us informed, and we’re sharing the news with you. So there you are.
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